Kate Chisholm

Trading places

‘We are humbled,’ said Keiichi Hayashi, ‘we are humbled by the power of nature.’ The Japanese ambassador to the UK was talking on Monday morning’s Today programme on Radio 4.

‘We are humbled,’ said Keiichi Hayashi, ‘we are humbled by the power of nature.’ The Japanese ambassador to the UK was talking on Monday morning’s Today programme on Radio 4.

‘We are humbled,’ said Keiichi Hayashi, ‘we are humbled by the power of nature.’ The Japanese ambassador to the UK was talking on Monday morning’s Today programme on Radio 4. It was a stark and moving moment. He spoke slowly, gently, thoughtfully, choosing his words carefully, the shock of what has happened in Japan echoing through his voice. In contrast, Jim Naughtie fumbled clumsily on air, unsure what to say, or how. He was in Japan, not Mr Hayashi. ‘You’ll know that I’m talking to you from Sendai.’ No wonder he sounded embarrassed.

Who made the decision that Naughtie should do the interview with the ambassador and not the London team? It was such a weird reversal of the natural order. Insulting, too, as Naughtie began telling the ambassador what he was witnessing in Sendai — as if the Japanese Embassy in Mayfair would not have had much better access to such information from their own Japanese contacts. ‘As I said in the beginning,’ said Mr Hayashi, ‘I feel we are humbled and awed…’ Mr Naughtie ended the interview, ‘Thank you very much for joining us from London.’

Back in 2009 Sir David Attenborough talked about the making of his new radio series on the natural world on Libby Purves’s Midweek programme (Radio 4). She asked him, ‘Does wildlife make you happy?’ To which he replied that his work gave him great consolation in times of personal trouble. ‘A huge consolation.’

It was an inspiring conversation, but when a week or so later I came to listen to David Attenborough’s Life Stories, his short weekly essays on Friday evenings (repeated Sunday mornings, Radio 4), I invariably switched off after only a couple of minutes.

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